FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 16, 2023
Jessie Seyfer, SF Public Defender’s Office | (415) 851-2212 | PubDef-MediaRelations@sfgov.org
Sepi Esfahlani, M Strategic Communications | (714) 746-7090 | firstname.lastname@example.org
S.F. Implements New State Law Allowing Thousands of Previously Ineligible Individuals to Expunge Conviction Records
SF Supervisors, Public Defender, State’s Leading Advocates for Community Safety Spoke at Press Conference; Clean Slate Clinic Followed
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Supervisors Shamann Walton, Myrna Melgar, Connie Chan, Hillary Ronen and Dean Preston joined Public Defender Mano Raju and some of the state’s leading safety advocates this morning on the steps of the Hall of Justice to urge hundreds of thousands of eligible Bay Area residents — including an estimated 25,000 in San Francisco alone — to permanently expunge old conviction records under a groundbreaking new law that went into effect this year. A full clip of the press conference can be found at twitter.com/safeandjust.
SB 731, authored by state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last October, made California the first state in the nation’s history to allow most old convictions on a person’s criminal record to be permanently expunged. The law greatly expands the list of convictions that are eligible for expungement.
“SB 731 tears down the systematic disenfranchisement and employment barriers faced by millions of Californians living with an old conviction record that disproportionately impacts people of color,” said Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice. “Rather than keeping us safe, the thousands of restrictions faced by Californians living with an old conviction record make it harder for these community members to rebuild productive and full lives.”
The bill created a comprehensive process allowing people to expunge old conviction and arrest records in California once a person has fully completed their sentence and successfully gone four years without further contact with the justice system. Misdemeanor and non-serious felony convictions will be automatically and electronically expunged by the state Department of Justice under the law, while people living with convictions for more serious felonies have the opportunity to petition a judge to have those convictions expunged.
“I’m a successful member of the community with two master’s degrees and I’m raising two kids of my own as well as my niece and a foster child,” said Fiani Johnson of Palo Alto. “But my old conviction has made housing for me and my children really challenging, I can’t volunteer for any extracurricular activities my kids have been involved in at school and I’ve been denied jobs and internships. Getting my record sealed under SB 731 will change all of this. I’ll be able to be more involved in my kids’ lives, and it will open up all sorts of professional opportunities to me.”
“SB 731 is a powerful new tool that organizations like TimeDone and public defender offices across the state can now put to work on behalf of individuals with eligible past convictions,” said San Francisco elected Public Defender Mano Raju. “But it takes a village of hardworking attorneys and staffers to help individuals navigate the legal system, which we all know can be difficult and confusing, to get their applications across the finish line. And these services require funding, especially now that SB 731 could produce a deluge of new applicants who are eligible.”
“This bill is about racial equity”, said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “San Francisco should be a national leader in advancing racial justice, and allowing people a chance to rebuild their lives. We must continue advancing public policies like this, that prioritize safety and promote equal opportunity, not ones that worsen racial injustices in our criminal justice system, economy and communities.”
Well over a million Californians now have the opportunity to remove barriers to reentry, in many cases for the first time, by an old conviction record in the pursuit of employment, stable housing, educational opportunities and other keys to public safety, family stability and economic security.
“SB 731 will create new futures for individuals who have served their time but continue to be burdened by an old conviction record,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “I’m proud to see California lead the country in comprehensive record expungement.”
“Once people have served their sentence, the only way to move our communities forward and make us all safer is ensuring these individuals have the opportunity to lead productive and successful lives post-conviction,” said District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. “This law will expand public safety and boost the economy for all Californians by creating a valuable workforce and decreasing unemployment spending up to $4 billion in the San Francisco Bay Area alone.”
“After serving time, life can become exponentially more difficult because of a criminal record — even if you never commit another crime, ” said District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar. “Without this new law, not only did individuals with records suffer, but society was affected by creating a vast underclass of residents — and their children — locked out of jobs, housing, government assistance, and the hopes of a more promising future.”
Nationally, 70 million Americans are living with an old criminal conviction or record that restricts employment, housing, and educational opportunities. In California alone, 8 million people — one in five state residents — are living with a past conviction or record. They face nearly 50,000 different legal restrictions that can restrict economic mobility and permanently push people to the margins of society. Numerous studies bear out the benefits of record clearing. A recent Harvard study found that individuals who have their records expunged are less likely to have contact with the criminal system than the general population, and earn 22 percent more than they did prior to having their records cleared.
“Our entire community benefits when people who have done their time are able to meaningfully access employment, housing, and dignity,” said District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. “Giving people a path to a clean slate recognizes that people can turn their lives around.”
Individuals living in San Francisco who wish to find out if they are eligible for expunging their records under SB 731 or other laws can contact the SF Public Defender’s Clean Slate Unit at sfpublicdefender.org/services/clean-slate or (415) 553-9337. Outside San Francisco, those interested can go visit TimeDone.org or email email@example.com.